The Buy Pile: The Passion of Brian K. Vaughan & Catching The Vibe

Mon, February 25th, 2013 at 7:30am PST

Comic Books
Hannibal Tabu, Columnist

WHAT IS THE BUY PILE?

Every week Hannibal Tabu (two-time Eisner-winning journalist/blogger/novelist/poet/jackass on Twitter/head honcho of Komplicated.com) goes to a comic book store called Comics Ink in Culver City, CA (Overland and Braddock -- hey Steve, Jason, Vince and Quislet) and grabs a whole lotta comics. These periodicals are quickly sorted (how) into two piles -- the "buy" pile (a small pile most weeks, comprised of planned purchases) and the "read" pile (often huge, often including comics that are really crappy but have some value to stay abreast of). Thursday afternoons you'll be able to get his thoughts (and they're just the opinions of one guy, so calm down, and here's some common definitions used in the column) about all of that ... which goes something like this ...

THE BUY PILE FOR FEBRUARY 20, 2012

NOTE: Sorry this is late. Kid-related delay. Sorry. Anyhoo, here's some reviews, dawg.

Vibe #1
(DC Comics)
Jump from the Read Pile.
In a virtually pitch perfect instance of comic book craft, this issue introduces Detroit teenager Francisco Ramon, freshly over the age of consent and living a life marked with tragedy. Darkseid's invasion gave the Motor City even more challenges than it already had, including giving the young Ramon something different. "Your inability to be photographed, the pain you're feeling is another side effect of exposure to interdimensional winds," he's told by Agent Gunn of A.R.G.U.S. (imagine S.H.I.E.L.D. with less of a pedigree), "from when you were caught in the event horizon of that boom tube. Your internal vibrational frequency is no longer in sync with the rest of the world." Whenever something comes to Earth from another dimension, young Francisco is able to "feel" it, and A.R.G.U.S. wants his help in stopping them from spending some time here. "So basically you want me to be a border cop?" he asks, recognizing the intended irony. Of course this is all part of a bigger plot from possibly corrupt government officials (more of which is revealed in "Justice League of America" #1, which we'll discuss) but that's not important here. Without much of the detail of Detroit or even a clearly Latino person on the creative team, the script from Geoff Johns and Andrew Kreisberg delivers an issue that gets you invested in the struggle of a new character, makes his family and personal situation relatable alongside artwork from Pete Woods, Sean Parsons and Brad Anderson that were just great. A pleasant surprise.

Fables #126
(Vertigo/DC Comics)
Maybe not the strongest issue of this lauded, award-winning series, but Snow White's long lost fiance Prince Brandish Holt has shown up anxious to claim his bride. She's not too keen on it, given his brusque manner and extreme, even violent chauvinism. That's just one piece here, as the Blue Fairy comes calling on Gepetto in the far-away kingdom of Haven, which bookends the work here but takes space away from Snow White making a solid performance while her actual husband Bigby Wolf hunts for his missing children in an a manner that could have almost been explained away in a caption. If you're a deeply involved fan, this will keep you rolling along with multiple story elements you've known for months. If not, this issue may not be your best bet.

Saga #10
(Image Comics)
Emotion overrules logic in another gripping chapter of this galaxy-spanning yawn. When the splash page hits, Fiona Staples' artwork simply blows you away with its scope and majesty. Brian K. Vaughan never lets up with this script, which shows two wonderful turning points for two different sets of characters, all in horrible, mortal danger and half indifferent to it because of their aforementioned entanglement in their emotions. Fantastic storytelling, sweeping ideas, everything is as it should be.

WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?

Really? "Vibe?" Who knew? Greatly surprising start.

THIS WEEK'S READ PILE

Honorable Mentions: Stuff worth noting, even if it's not good enough to buy

"Deadpool" #5 was far closer to the mark with jokes that flew fast as the titular character tracked down a zombie Ronald Reagan trying to use a Russian space platform to irradiate the US. Lines from Jay-Z and Wu-Tang Clan, riffs on "Planet of the Apes" (the Heston, not the stuff from Boom! Studios) and the "Mean" Joe Green Coke commercial and a lot of old Reagan jokes. While amusing, those bits of familiarity were the problem, as every Reagan joke has been done (despite the great structure on the one with the monkeys) and this "zombie president" storyline has dragged on for a really, really long time.

In "Dark Horse Presents" #21, the segment from Thorne and Harris' "Journeymen" grabs the reader by the lapel and shakes them like they stole something. Likewise, the cyclical story of a super criminal trapped in a life of bad decisions was self-contained and poignant, and there were some other gems like the "Finder" segment from Carla Speed McNeil. The good-to-meh ratio has improved, but not quite enough to justify the exorbitant cover price (at the week of release, word is the digital price drops after a bit).

There's a telling bit of dialogue in "Justice League" #17 that explains a lot about why this story emerged as it did. "You don't need to prove anything, Aquaman!" Superman yells across a battlefield. "I do," Aquaman replied. "To everyone!" The once and future king does his best to prove that he's a serious character ("My kids won't go in the water" was a line used to convey the intensity of how Atlantis' invasion was perceived, and Aquaman as its poster child) and not a punchline with middling results. Literally every element in the sadly predictable and facile narrative felt like a marketing blurb as it established the events of "Justice League of America" and other stories floating around.

"Kill Shakespeare: The Tide Of Blood" #1 was pretty good, with the challenges of freedom bearing down on Juliet's would-be republic. Meanwhile Romeo's drunk and buried in whores, languishing as Juliet shacks up with Hamlet. Oh, and Titus threatens war, another legendary character holds magic and doom on a distant island ... there's a lot going on. Almost too much. If you know the canon, this is meaty stuff, but if not, this issue doesn't give you much to work with.

"Indestructible Hulk" was smarter than the last couple of issues, as the good doctor meets his research assistants and hands them a sliver of uru metal (really). There's also an amazing shot and concept from Chinese intelligence on the 616 earth and Attuma reading from the Orm handbook, but ol' Jade Jaws seemed to have gone in even more blindly than normal, and struggled way more with opponents that should have been a cakewalk.

"Womanthology: Space" #5 saw a marked increase in quality looking at the theme of comets. One story positing a comet as a romantic, drawn to a love that she cannot have, was wonderful. A second set in a junior high about an awkward teen was well told and smart. However, the gardener droid story (which may not have been as directly tied to the theme, your interpretations may vary) was -- like "Paperman" in a way -- so worth seeing. A solid issue that still had some fluff around its edges, if you want an anthology, this would be the one you'd want.

The Superior Spider-Man eats whoever's leftovers he wants, according to "Avengers" #6, which drifted around to a grandiose New Universe riff (not bad), had Shang-Chi meditate with an amnesiac coma patient wielding the Captain Universe power (meh) and again showed people the jerkier side of the Spider. Its best elements are very "Inside Baseball," so if you don't attach any meaning to July 22, 1986 (or even March 2, 2006), the resonance might be lost upon you, so not a bad comic, but not one you'd feel confident paying full price for either.

"G.I. JOE" #1 had some really great elements, including top notch artwork, solid characterization borrowing both from the cinematic universe and the previous IDW comics and some chuckle worthy humor thrown in. It's a disappointment, however, to see how bad the Joes really are at doing their job, to see them making such critical errors that either mean the minds at Cobra are all super-geniuses (hard to fathom given how they dress) or just superbly lucky. It'll be interesting to see if the Joes can ever get anything really done.

Amanda Waller gets Steve Trevor to try and build their own super team in "Justice League of America" #1, which has far from heroic intentions (some of which were alluded to in the aforementioned "Vibe"), offering a new pecking order in international assassins (Katana and Deathstroke are at the top now, apparently) and Steve Trevor even busted out with a Lando Calrissian line. However, the premise of who this team could handle is, at best, preposterous and the montage model is played out. Good art, a couple of okay ideas, but Amanda Waller is no Max Lord when it comes to putting together Justice Leagues.

"Judge Dredd" #4 finished up a storyline involving weird science and legal complications, all bracketed with blood and high caliber bullets. The title character's terse, almost Easwtwoodian performance was a pleasant still center to the frantic goings on around him, with a sci-fi take on "Memento" as the backup, related to the lead story. Not bad, but a little too cluttered (much like Mega City One's dystopia) for its own good.

A heist is complicated enough on its own, but when you have to pull it for the FBI and you've got a lovesick amateur along, it can get messy fast. "Thief Of Thieves" #12 has a good, slick feel to it and stylish writing and art, but its brevity is its deficit. You don't get enough of the application of skill, like you would in "Leverage" or the joy in the work like "The Thomas Crown Affair." This will likely play better as part of a collected edition.

"Locke And Key: Omega" #3 was dark like the undercurrents of "Synchronicity 2" by the Police. As teenage drama spun along in its self-important way, demons and shadows found their way out of the dark, hungry fir revenge. Very close based on how well it developed character, making their lives matter, but again a threat that's more stereotype than reality made this fall short.

An unlikely hero emerged in the person of Faith, a fangirl who can fly, in "Harbinger" #9. The issue pushed forward the plot (which mostly had to do with more people being very bad at their jobs) while focusing on developing her optimistic, almost quixotic character. This was cute in an "after school special" kind of way, but could be skipped and catching up wouldn't take more than a couple of panels.

If this series could have committed, "Superior Spider-Man" #4 could have made its way home on Otto's sheer indignance alone. He got furious that Peter never gained his doctorate, was forced to ask for help, showed some admirable signs of having priorities and ... well, pretty much being better at being Spider-Man than Peter ever was. However, the Ghost of Peter Parker Past is still insanely annoying, too much was happening at once for the story to have any cohesiveness and the actual improvements Otto's making are mostly background elements.

"Black Beetle No Way Out" #2 has thrilling costumed noir that you'd normally expect to see from Dynamite, using nothing more than determination and hot lead from cold steel to struggle against Nazis chasing a mystical artifact. However, Nazis? If you like period pieces, sure, this might do it for you.

"Spider" #9 wasn't bad either, basic noir swashbuckling set against a backdrop of corruption and a troubled love triangle. It had its "Arrow" moments, with a billionaire trying to clean up his father's legacy while ridiculously trying to protect his secret identity and endure the quips of his Black confidant. In the end, it would be cool if it was on TV, but not good enough for the cover price.

"Star Trek" #18 wasn't bad, an examination of how Uhura and Spock became an item. Most of the issue was spent in her memories, examining a formative moment in her childhood. Despite being a full length issue, it felt like an anthology snippet, which wasn't exactly the bang for your buck one might prefer.

"Jinnrise" #2 works harder than its debut issue at setting the stage for its players, desperate humans with a magical being struggling against equestrian-looking alien invaders. Much if the dialogue was expository and unadorned, and the artwork's busier than it needs to be, but the kernel of something interesting is here, waiting for room to grow.

"Mind MGMT" #8 was fast paced and treated impossibilities like trivialities. It needs a lot more in terms of characterization, even when putting a crime novel in the margins, but it was more sizzle than steak, despite the fun super powers used here.

The soon-to-be cancelled "Sword of Sorcery" #5 backed up more of the "Eclipso was from Gemworld" shtick while House Citrine had some internecine concerns that were bad for business. The arguable leads from House Amethyst were essentially guest stars in the book and the backup posited a Morningstar that was stuck in tedious cliches. Not enough stuff for the price.

"Jericho Season 4" #2 really turned it on in its last third, a twisted plot that plays expectations against reality in a town smack dab in the middle of a civil war. The craftiness of it was cute, but with zero foreshadowing, much of the issue felt like the plot was plodding along. Not bad, though.

"Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" #19 had some interesting elements involving an interdimensional struggle against invasion and ultimate genocide. Each Turtle follows his own expertise and exhibits signs of characterization, with even the supporting characters doing well to distinguish themselves. However, once the plot got back down to earth (literally) it felt like a needless distraction, one that could have been depicted as a backup story or in another arena, sapping the issue of much needed momentum. Not bad, but not quite good enough.

The "Meh" Pile Not good enough to praise, not bad enough to insult, not important enough to say much more than the title

"Action Comics" #17, "Spawn" #228, "Borderlands Origins" #4, "Batwoman" #17, "Transformers Prime: Rage of the Dinobots" #4, "Captain America" #4, "Adventure Time" #13, "Chasing the Dead" #4, "Birds of Prey" #17, "Captain Marvel" #10, "Sherlock Holmes: The Liverpool Demon" #2, "My Little Pony Micro-Series: Twilight Sparkle" #1, "X-O Manowar" #10, "Clive Barker's Hellraiser: Dark Watch" #1, "Fanboy vs. Zombies" #11, "Fever Ridge: Macarthur Jungle War" #1, "Thor: God of Thunder" #4, "The Shadow: Year One" #1, "Nova" #1, "Baltimore Widow and the Tank," "Catwoman" #17, "Vitriol the Hunter" #1, "Godzilla" #10, "Conan the Barbarian" #13, "Number 13" #3, "Hollows" #3, "Dark Avengers" #187, "Green Lantern" #17, "Bionic Woman" #8, "It Girl and the Atomics" #7, "Grimm Fairy Tales Presents Wonderland" #8, "Dejah Thoris And The Green Men Of Mars" #1, "X-Factor" #252 (but we sure want Peter David to have a full recovery), "Revival" #7, "Lord of the Jungle" #13, "Supergirl" #17, "Alan Robert's Killology" #3, "Star Trek: Countdown to Darkness" #2, "Plume" #2, "Happy" #4, "Nightwing" #17, "Daredevil" #23, "Sixth Gun: Sons of the Gun" #1, "Wonder Woman" #17.

No, just ... no ... These comics? Not so much ...

Re: "Red Hood and the Outlaws" #17. Really? That ending? Nobody in the whole freaking Wayne Manor thought to, oh, do their freaking job? COME ON ALREADY! Some nice emotional moments, but man that ending was stu-pid.

Re: "Alpha: Big Time" #1. You're gonna keep on trying to make "fetch" happen aren't you? Look, yes, obnoxious Otto-Peter was mildly entertaining (as we noted before), but everything else about this issue was steeped in cliche and tedium. Alpha will never even be as big as Gravity, and he's not really anybody.

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

Not bad at all, to only have two real problems, both of which were more lame than egregiously bad.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

Jump, no real problems ... this week's a winner, baby!

THE BUSINESS

As of right now, you can spend ten bucks and get about 175,000 of fiction from the writer of this column. The links that follow tell you where you can get "The Crown: Ascension" and "Faraway," five bucks a piece. Love these reviews? It'd be great if you picked up a copy. Hate these reviews? Find out what this guy thinks is so freakin' great. There's free sample chapters too, and all proceeds to towards the care and maintenance of his kids ... oh, and to buy comic books, of course. What are you waiting for? Go buy a freakin' book already!

Just for kicks over at the new home of Komplicated,

big follow up on why DC and Marvel aren't hiring any Black writers as well as an in-depth discussion of why "The Boondocks" and an Uncle Ruckus meeting should not exist. Yeah, probably gonna start bringing the pain again, so get ready for some of that.

Got a comic you think should be reviewed in The Buy Pile? If we get a PDF of a fairly normal length comic (i.e. "less than 64 pages") by no later than 24 hours before the actual issue arrives in stores (and sorry, we can only review comics people can go to stores and buy), we guarantee the work will get reviewed, if remembered. Physical comics? Geddouttahere. Too much drama to store with diminishing resources. If you send it in more than two days before comics come out, the possibility of it being forgotten increases exponentially. Oh, you should use the contact form as the CBR email address hasn't been regularly checked since George W. Bush was in office. Sorry!

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